Jan 27, 2010

The Lebanese in West Africa

There has been much talk about the Chinese in Africa recently. But, in West Africa, the Lebanese remain the biggest non-African migrant community. Why are they there? A recent BBC article offers two explanations:
  • "Sometime toward the end of the 19 Century, a ship-load of Lebanese immigrants was heading to Brazil, seeking profit from the booming new world. The first stop after several weeks sailing was Senegal and - the story goes - the somewhat unworldly Lebanese passengers got off believing they had arrived in South America."
  • "Another story is that The French government also ran a recruiting campaign in Beirut looking for middlemen to work the boom in West African groundnut farming, at a time of agricultural crisis in Lebanon."
While the region is one of the most difficult places to do business, the Lebanese community, thought to be between 80,000 and 250,000, has thrived. Natural born merchants, they use their connections abroad to source goods for import, and - like other migrant groups - they use their family networks to keep their costs down. They operate in many areas - car importing, mining, oil services, defence contracts - and the more shadowy worlds of gun-running, diamond-smuggling and crude-oil theft.

While there have been some papers studying this migrant community, I haven't found anything yet using recent migration and trade statistics. I'll start working on "Lenabese networks and blood diamonds".


Laura Z said...

they rule the trade in africa! it's amazing. they are natural traders, and there was a gap in africa. i dont think its the first explanation - im sure all lebanese reached brazil, we have so many of them!! more than in lebanon itself (8 million against 7 m.) cool topic!

Anonymous said...

Laura, Lebanon has like 4M people, so Brazil has like twice as much!